"When the artist is alive in any person, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-impressive creature. Where others close the book he opens it and shows that there are still more pages to see..." Robert Henry
Paul Gruchow has been called our contemporary Thoreau.
In his book, THE NECESSITY OF EMPTY PLACES, Paul wrote: "There is no death so final as the death of a memory." When asked several months before his death, at age 56 -- a suicide born of depression Ė how he wanted to be remembered, he replied: "Tell them I got up and said a few words."
His death, although a tragedy, is not so final as the death of our remembering him would be. He got up and said more than a few words, his enduring gift to us in these confusing, angst provoking times.
In remarkably lyrical essays, he described, argued, cajoled, reflected, intoned, implored, praised, evoked, and sang. But most of all, he shared his soul: His great love for small, rural communities and his upper midwestern roots; his discovery of the tall grass prairie and the mountains of the American West; his canoe trips into the northern Minnesota wilderness; his struggles with childhood trauma, depression and the mental health treatment system.
His greatest virtue is his generosity to all of us: The thousands of words he has left behind in six published books and hundreds of speeches, his personal journal, and several unpublished manuscripts.
Paul Gruchow was raised on a small, subsistence farm near Montevideo, Minnesota. He is the author of six published books on subjects ranging from the culture of the tall grass prairie to what we teach (and fail to teach) rural children -- work widely acclaimed for its lyrical prose and eloquence A respected and inspiring educator, Paulís writer in residence involvements included St. Olaf and Concordia College, The University of Minnesota, The Lake Superior Studies Program, as well as lectures and workshops in public schools, churches, bookstores, government and environmental organizations. He has won both the Minnesota Book and Lifetime Achievement Awards, served on the board of The National Endowment For The Humanities, and in the 1980ís edited THE WORTHINGTON GLOBE -- an award winning newspaper. His unpublished work includes several natural history manuscripts, a personal journal, numerous lectures, poetry, fiction, and a compelling memoir exploring his struggle with depression and the mental health treatment system. Paul took his own life in Duluth, Minnesota on February 22, 2004, at the age of 56.
ELEGY FOR PAUL GRUCHOW
Youíve been gone one week wandering a remnant of prairie crossing the still frozen lakes of Minnesota your snow shoe tracks disappearing and no one can find you. This morning I woke in pain needing to hear your voice. You arenít coming back, old friend. There is no return address no way to reach you with a question: How will we survive a time in which even one brave as you could not stop his hands from shaking at a lectern? I miss most your laughter - how you held back nothing your whole body convulsing when we watched that movie about the psychiatrist driven mad by his patient - how you writhed on the floor in pure cathartic delight. Today there are no words from you but I will go on listening still, this large silence your eloquence now.
photo by John Duren
photo by John Duren
SLEEPING IN THE WILDERNESS
For Paul Gruchow
The sound of rain on the asphalt roof This morning, the last day of January, Reminds me of when you said You loved to hear the rain on your tent Sleeping in the wilderness
And of how a man in the audience Said you were wrong to love it Because "that rain will still be there In the morning"
I no longer remember your answer.
I remember that Sigurd Olson Wrote in The Singing Wilderness About the peace of lying down In a strong tent, ax nearby, Should anything snap in the storm During the night.
I donít know why your tent broke Or how to feel about the sound of the rain Above me now. I only know that you are Past caring, Sleeping in the wilderness, alone.